Pascal Hufschmid shares his story and reveals the genesis of the participatory project imagined in collaboration with Magnum Photos and … you.
Photo credit: Carmelo Lacobello, head of the infectious-disease department at Cannizzaro Hospital, meets with his team.” Catania, Sicily. ITALY. March 25, 2020.
© Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos
Two months ago, to the day, I was in Kigali on an observation mission. It was an immense opportunity to discover the daily work of the ICRC delegation in Rwanda, and I did so with humility and great interest. Of course, during my stay, we talked about the virus, but it was far from being the only topic of conversation. There was both time and space for other topics too. During the day, I sometimes shook hands, forgetting to use the new and still unfamiliar gestures that have become today’s new norm. My awkwardness was greeted with friendly smiles as physical proximity and contact were still customary. We took it for granted that we would go to a restaurant and sitting next to someone on the return flight was normal.
Since then, everything has changed. When I landed in Geneva on Thursday, March 12, I was so far from imagining how different daily life was about to become. Of course, I had kept myself informed by reading the news from China and then Italy. I had observed the situation from a comfortable distance through newspapers and online. The storm was coming, but I hadn’t imagined it to be quite so imminent or so close.
The gap between the News and my reality suddenly disappeared. In the span of a mere 48 hours, everything changed. I had to reinvent my way of working, reorganise my daily life and learn to live with uncertainty, like everyone else. It was no longer possible to embrace friends. Quickly, I had to figure out how to juggle the roles of father, teacher and museum director, all full time and from home. I was obliged to put employees on partial unemployment. In the street, passers-by covered their mouths and noses as they approached my children, suddenly considered as potential carriers of the virus. I had to queue to get into the supermarket, but I was lucky enough to be able to do so. Others in Geneva, of all places, were waiting in a line more than a kilometer long for food aid. I was fortunate that I wasn’t sick and live in a country where the health system is coping with the crisis. Every day with my family, I take part in a collective “thank you”, by clapping from my balcony. Every day, I tell myself, “do the best you can”, or “accept your own vulnerability and that of others”, and “keep moving forward in the middle of the storm”.
I am sharing my experience of the pandemic. Yours is certainly very different yet just as valid as my own or anyone else’s. That is what I find so exceptional in what we are going through. It is both a shared global experience and a deeply personal one. My colleagues and I propose that we build a collective memory of this unique situation. If you wish to do so, we invite you to share your personal story with us on our online portal. We will keep it in our collections.
We will feature the stories with empathy and respect. By learning from the experiences of others, we may be able to understand what we are going through even better. Above all, we can begin to imagine our new reality in the future. Each week, to accompany our shared narrative, we will publish exclusive images from Magnum agency photographers around the world. We will come face to face with a multiplicity of different points of view on the same phenomenon. We will circulate these images on our online platforms and discuss them with you. When we reopen, we will gradually include them in our permanent exhibition, which has had to be modified in accordance with stipulated standards of hygiene. That’s a good thing, after all! Our whole life has been disrupted, so we may as well invest ‘The Humanitarian Adventure’ with a new look. Under the impact of the pandemic, humanitarian action itself has had to adapt. It seems crucial to us that our exhibition does exactly the same.
Each week, we will propose a new theme, which will serve as a common thread to link the featured images. On Monday, we will begin by taking the full measure of the upheaval. COVID-19 challenges us at every level, for it forces us to question our status quo, our way of living and our assumptions. Our key theme for the week: “challenge”.
See you online.